Category Archives: Education

Author Visitation Part 2: Student-centered Learning

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

In part 2 of sharing my visitation experience at my local high school, I want to discuss a method of teaching that I not only witnessed, but was a part of.  Mrs. Carey, the journalism teacher of the three classes I visited, conducted something called student-centered teaching. She of course has a curriculum, but she has her students give input on how they want the course to look like. She even allows them to provide feedback and give suggestions. Before I visited her classes, I was nervous and even slightly uncomfortable with the thought of lecturing in front of her students. I had even prepared a powerpoint. However, my experience was anything but and the powerpoint certainly was not needed.

The structure of my visit was very student-focused. I don’t like to talk about myself too much, so I was relieved when Mrs. Carey told me that it would be a very laid back conversation that was driven by the questions I would be asked. So, instead of standing in front of the students and lecturing to them, I sat amongst them and talked with them. It was of course more comfortable, but it was also much more personal and effective. The students were free to ask what they wanted to know and for those who had other responsibilities, they were free to work on them solely or simultaneously while listening to me.

What I love about this teaching method is that it gives students some control over what they should control: their education. Administers may see students as children, but for the most part, especially when they’re in high school, students know how they want to be taught and what works for them as well as what doesn’t work. The best thing about this method is that it signifies how teaching is indeed a partnership. A teacher may believe they have the best teaching method around, but if it’s not working for the students, then it’s not working. A teacher needs to understand their students and work with their students in order for education to be successful.

So, if student-centered teaching is so great, why isn’t it used more often? Why are policy-makers more interested in result-focused education instead? There are of course plenty of reasons, and I believe one of them to be an issue of control and power. I believe it correct to assume that some feel student-centered teaching to be a relinquishment of power and control for teachers and policy-makers. On the contrary, I believe that if students are spoken to, spoken with, and most of all, if they are heard, the teacher in turn gains much more respect and power in the classroom. The students that I visited were anything but out of control and disrespectful, and this does not mean that they don’t get unruly like all students do. Their education is just a matter of understanding the following principles:

1)   Students have a voice that need to heard.

2)   Education is a 3 way partnership: Teacher and Student, Student and Parent, Parent and Teacher

There are, of course, other successful teaching methodologies, but I believe this one to be one of the best.  To Mrs. Carey and all the other student-centered teachers out there, you’re doing a great job!

Peace and love,

Ariffa

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Author Visitation Part 1

students-250164_640Dear Readers,

A little over a month ago, I had the honor of visiting my local high school and speaking with journalism students from three classes. The goal of my visit was to discuss my experience as an author and answer any questions that they may have for me. First off, it was very surreal to be back in that environment. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed looking at these students and their teacher not only as an outsider but as someone who loves education. It was so fascinating to see what a teacher sees when a student expresses interest or when one or two of them in particular seem to have a certain something that makes them stand out from the rest.

Some of the most common questions I was asked is below:

1)   Is your book a reflection of your life and/or current events in time?

Yes and No. Kingdom of the Sun tells the story about a modern-day kingdom that is struggling with many of the political, economic, social, and educational issues that other countries are currently facing. So, in a way, the book is symbolic of those issues and how I think they should be solved. Particular situations in the novella are mostly made up, while others may or may not be based off of real life events in my life or someone else’s.

2)   Are any of your characters based off of real people?

Many of the Scholars in my book are based off of the teachers that I have had in my life. It is my way of honoring them and all they have done.

3)   Would you like your book to be a movie?

This is another “yes and no” answer. I have seen too many amazing books that have become awful movie adaptions, and it would just destroy me if my book was one of them. I’m sure that almost every author wants to see their work come to life, but for me, I would only want it done if I could have complete control over everything.

4)   What was your writing process?

I told the students that when I wrote poetry, I always started with the last stanza or line before continuing the rest of the piece. With Kingdom of the Sun, I didn’t really have a plan in mind. The words just came as I wrote. The only thing I knew was the messages that I wanted to convey…and that I wanted the first word of the book to be “Uh.” 🙂

5)   Did you ever think that you’d be an author?

I never saw myself writing a book, so this was definitely not planned. It was due to certain life-changing experiences that made me who I am today and gave me the fire and passion that I needed to write Kingdom of the Sun.

6)   What’s one thing that you would change?

I would have definitely gotten an editor before handing out pre-released copies!

Thank you, Kyle, for reaching out to me and thank you, Mrs. Carey, for the wonderful opportunity of speaking to your awesome students. And thank you to your awesome students for listening to me! Part 2 of this experience will discuss the teaching style of student-centered learning.

When a Teacher Retires

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Photo Credit: KRISTOPHER RADDER/Pressconnects.com

Dear Readers,

I firmly believe that our souls are constantly speaking to us, especially when it has a connection or bond to another. I was reminded of this on Sunday when thoughts and memories of my high school dance teacher kept entering my mind. She was a petite Japanese-Canadian woman that possessed an aura of power, intimidation, kindness, and grace. The best way for me to describe our relationship is that it was the epitome of teacher and student. I looked up to her, I learned from her, and I admired her.

So on this particular Sunday, I thought about the wonderful memories I had of dancing for her and beside her. That night, I felt compelled to visit an old friend’s Facebook page, which is something I do once every two months, and there it was: After twenty years, Karen Koyanagi (or K2 as she was called) was retiring as the dance teacher of Binghamton High School and her final performance was that night.

I was then hit by a strange feeling that is hard to put into words, even now. I of course felt sadness that was not due to me missing her seeing as I have not seen her in years, but it was instead due to the missed opportunity that will result from her retirement. I found it quite rare that a high school would have a dance department, let alone, an excellent teacher in it. And students after her will never be able to experience that joy. Reading about K2’s retirement also made me aware of perhaps a naivety that I had in believing (and even hoping) that the teachers I held near and dear to me would teach on forever. And I guess in my eyes, K2 will leave too soon.

In thinking of K2 that day, two of my favorite memories of her came to mind. The first was the week that my great-grandmother had died, and I was having trouble assessing my feelings in dealing with the death of someone in my family for the first time as well as the fact that I barely knew her. K2 had noticed the change in my behavior and had sat me down after class to talk. And it was in the sunlight classroom that she withdrew from me words that I had bottled up inside and emotions that spilled from my eyes and onto her shoulder.

The final memory that I will share with you happened at my high school graduation. Mine was structured in a way that when a student’s name was called, they were greeted by someone who handed them their diploma and the student then proceeded to say their goodbyes to all the school administrators waiting in a line before them. When my name was called, I was greeted by a wonderful teacher who was to retire that year or the year after. Holding back tears, I took the diploma and gave a hug to every administrator that stood before me and at the very end of that line stood K2. In remembering that day, her presence took me aback a little. It wasn’t because she was not an administrator, but because of how and where she stood. All the administrators had stood side-by-side, facing the audience as the students said their goodbyes. But K2 stood about five feet away from them and her body was turned to face the student as they made their way to her. As I approached K2 that day, the same feelings that resurfaced on Sunday came to me for this woman, this teacher, this wonderful and supportive educator. And on days like Sunday when memories of her creep into in my mind, I’ll smile and think of what I said to her on graduation day when I held her close: “I love you, K2.”

In the Name of Knowledge and Creativity

apple-256261_640Dear Readers,

Once again, my friend and follow blogger, Vera of Verawrites.com recommended a very interesting blog post. This time, it was by Beth Byrnes titled “Cherchez la Faim.” Like some of my blog posts in the past, this article focuses on education and discusses the absurdity of placing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education above the humanities.

I particularly enjoyed this article because it’s such a wonderful feeling to know that I am not the only person who sees the many flaws in the education system. Beth actually states that “We cannot put the humanities, i.e. art and literature especially, on a back-burner.” No, we CANNOT.  Some of you may remember previous blog posts of mine in which I discuss the difficulties that students have in writing a simple 5-paragrah essay or how grammar is a significant issue even amongst adults.

Beth talks about an example from historian Adam Gopnik in which he credits Apple’s success to not just great engineering but awesome creativity. Now think about that and then think about the significance of language and words as it relates to business and beyond. For example, did you notice how “Global Warming” suddenly became “Climate Change” or how people take notice to the word “Free” in sales ads? Where would businesses and technological corporations be without the power of language and creativity?

It is unacceptable to believe that society can thrive on STEM education alone. The humanities need math and science, and math and science need the humanities. And Beth’s article provided another excellent example when she told us about how her niece’s love of signing, acting, painting, and knitting prepared her for a career as a scientist.

Although Sooryan is a fictional kingdom, much of its design pertains to a reality that I wish to have in education. My book’s concept of multidimensional learning takes subjects like math and history and “combines” them with other subjects to make educational more meaningful and exciting. The purpose of this teaching strategy is to not only show that every course is significant but that each subject can relate to the other in some way. Multidimensional learning is seen when a teacher incorporates math and art or when an in-depth study in English class discusses a novel’s historical significance as much as its literary.

Towards the end of this wonderful post, Beth discusses the argument by Gopnik that “We are impelled to study the humanities because we are human” due to our desire for understanding of ourselves, our history, and the world around us. The example that she provides pertains to the significance of studying 19th century literature and how it relates to our current issues.

For me, I see Gopnik’s concept a little differently. I believe that we need to study the humanities because of how we live as humans:

We Think: The humanities teaches us to analyze

We Speak: The humanities teaches us how to articulate our words properly. Am I the only person who cringes when someone says “omg”?

We Write: We cannot downplay the importance of writing and grammar. Most adults may not have to write essays or reports on a daily basis, but knowing how to properly write an email is certainty not that common.

We Read: We must never take literacy of the English language for granted.

We move and we are moved: Words and art give us the power to impact, influence, and touch the lives of people we may have never seen or spoken to.

Education of the humanities impacts how we see ourselves and the world, and how we interact overall. So tell me, isn’t this just as important as learning the basics of math and science?

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Chains of an Educator

chain-196821_640

Bind-by-the-constraints-and-constrains-because-they’re
Blinded-by-the numbers-and-false-meaning
Bound-are-your-hands-and-your-words
Building-limits-to-their-minds-and-their-dreaming

Bought-I-am-not-to-the-idea-that
Being-one-is-being-all-and-the-same
Bought-I-am-not-to-the-idea-that
Being-an-educator-is-just-someone-to-blame

Being-bound-by-blindness-begs FREEDOM

For  educators  to  teach  and  students  to learn  and  all  to  be  heard  for
Fires  of  greatness  will  rage  and  burn
For  they  will  no  longer  be  quelled  and
Flying   and   soaring   will   be   their   minds   and   hearts   when   you   are

Finally    and    truly

FREE

Ariffa

Education and the Flawed Systems: Interview with Scholar Abel Godfrey

photo-4Hi Everyone,

Today, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and do something very different which is interview a character from my novella Kingdom of the Sun. His name is Scholar Abel Godfrey, a favorite character of mine because of what he represents and stands for. Enjoy!

Me: Thank you, Scholar Godfrey for joining me today! I am both honored and slightly embarrassed.

Scholar Godfrey (laughs): Why is that?

Me: Well, I did create you, so I feel like I’m talking to myself in a way.

Scholar Godfrey: If you created me, then how are you talking to yourself? Is there part of you in me?

Me: Well, no. Actually, you were my hardest character to create because of that. I guess that’s why you’re my second favorite. The others were either variations of myself or combinations of people that I have known or heard stories of.

Scholar Godfrey (smirks): Ja, is there or is there not part of you in me?

Me (pauses and thinks): I believe that we are part of each other. Although you do not possess some of my traits, you are what I want to be and represent. You were created from my passion and desire for true education… You are what I created. And I create what you are whenever I teach others through my words.

Scholar Godfrey (smiles wide and nods): De wa, Mrs. Bevin, it is also an honor to be here with you and part of you.

Me (smiles shyly): Thank you so much, Scholar. So, let’s start with the first question. How would you describe your teaching style?

Scholar Godfrey (leans back and folds his hands onto his lap): I would say it’s personalized and interactive. I enjoy getting to know my students and learning how to pick their brains and bring out the best in them. I don’t like simply talking or lecturing; rather, I enjoy interacting and talking with them and not to them.

Me: So, would you say there’s one certain way or method of teaching? And what I mean is, do you believe there to be one standard of teaching that all should abide by?

Scholar Godfrey: The only standard that a Scholar, teacher, or professor should abide by is the need, desire, and will, to fulfill your purpose which is to influence, inspire, and invigorate a life so much that when a student leaves your classroom, they leave brighter and stronger and the imprint of what you have done is with them forever.

Me: Beautifully said, Scholar.  I’m sure our readers would love to know what it’s like to be educated in the kingdom of Sooryan.

Scholar Godfrey: The biggest difference in comparison to the American system is that the kingdom of Sooryan does not remove God from its schools and government. Sooryan’s education system is also structured to suit the needs of its people in a way that is practical, honest, and effective. For example, there is no purpose of a student taking four years of study for a trade like cooking or construction that is better served with hands-on experience in the field.

Me: Indeed. One of the many flaws with the American system is that it tells our students to go to college to receive a good job, and when they graduate, employers expect them to miraculously have the experience that is required.

Scholar Godfrey: Yes, that is what I understand.

Me: I have once described America’s teachers as unsung super heroes who are expected to do so much more than what should be asked of them. The pressure for them to conform to a system that forces them to treat students generically is unbelievable. What can you tell us about Sooryan’s Scholars?

Scholar Godfrey (glances at his gold robe): Our Scholars are like rays of light from the sun. We give hope, guidance, and warmth, and our people give us the same in return. The people of Sooryan are nothing without the Scholars, and the Scholars of Sooryan are nothing without our people. This is understood and recognized by all.

Me: So would you say that the Scholars are treated like royalty?

Scholar Godfrey (smiles softly and nods): Benar.

Me: Scholar, my absolute favorite quotes from you are “History is a powerful weapon,” “History and truth are not always one and the same,” and “There is always more than one story.” What you said rings so much truth in today’s world and time, and I get so frustrated with people’s inability to see that.

Scholar Godfrey: Well, I am not surprised. History is powerful weapon because of people’s inability to see it as one. Imagine the lives that would be changed if people would simply question…if all sides of a story were told.

Me: Sticking with the same topic, Scholar, may I tell you one of my life’s dreams?

Scholar Godfrey (chuckles and leans forward): Of course.

Me: I want to change the name of Columbus Day and call it something like “Native Peoples Day” or “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Scholar Godfrey: In this life and the next, I think that would make bring honor to many.

Me (laughs): And make many upset as well! But that is all part what it means to light up the darkness.

Scholar Godfrey (laughs): Agreed. There are many in the dark who wish to remain there and keep others there with them.

Me: Then, let us continue to light up the darkness, Scholar.

Scholar Godfrey: I shall be with you all the way.

Me: Thank you so much for joining me today, Scholar Godfrey. And to my readers: peace and love.

Response to “Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem”

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

Last week, Vera, a long-time follower of mine and a wonderful blogger, recommended that I read a blog post from A Holistic Journey titled Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem. As the title suggests, the article discusses the theory and the author’s belief that it is more effective to praise a student’s efforts as opposed to their smarts.

My Story:

Before I tell you my opinion about this theory, I will share a bit of my background in education. Before I even started school, my mother made sure I was well prepared…very well prepared. Before I even started kindergarten, I knew how to read, write, and spell at a level well above kids my age. When I was not in school, I studied and read, and I read and studied.

In middle school, my mother did set a standard for grades: I was to get As and some Bs. Did this stress me out? No. Because ingrained in me was something very important: if you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded. So each time my mother read my straight A report card, she would say “keep it up,” or “if you keep it up, maybe you’ll get a scholarship.” It was not “keep being smart” or “if you stay as smart as you are now, you’ll get a scholarship.” Because the concept of hard work was ingrained in me, I believed I was smart because I worked hard, and because of that, I believed everyone had it in them to get the grades I did if they worked as hard as I did. And yes, I received multiple scholarships.

 Do I Agree?: Yes and No

Diana’s post states that “when we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” This is something I respectively don’t agree with fully. I think parents tell their children they’re smart because 1) they truly believe it and/or 2) they want their children to believe the same.  There also needs to be a distinction between praising and complimenting. Why shouldn’t we honestly compliment our children and students for being smart? Everyone likes to feel good and should always feel that way.

Setting up for failure:

When it comes to praise, feedback, and the like, there is a BIG difference between the realistic and the ridiculous. For example:

1) I believe that girls should not be told they’re princesses. I’m not talking about affectionately calling a child a princess (every girl is a princess), but instilling in their heads that they are indeed royalty above everyone else. There has actually been a study done about the negative personality effects of this. I’m sure you can imagine; however, see the “Not every child is the same” section.

2) Students are told at a young age that college will get them anywhere, that a college grad is superior to one who is not, and so on. Yet, when we look at the percentage of unemployed and heavily indebted college grads, what should we think? Yes, college grads should of course be praised, but they must be prepared with a realistic view of the world.

3) Parents need to teach their children that they are not the greatest in the world, that there will be someone out there who is better at something, that they will be competing against many, many other people, and that the only way to be truly successful is honest, hard work. I will never forget the story about a teacher’s graduation speech that discussed these very same topics and the backlash he received from parents who were blind to the reality of the world.

Not every child is the same:

Diana’s post states that praising a child’s smarts can cause stress and pressure. This may be true, but I believe that the way praise and feedback affects a child depends on their personality.  Yes, some may feel pressure, while others may just let it roll off their shoulder, and others may take it humbly or to the head. Isn’t the lesson of humility, maturity, and comfort with one’s self all part of growing up and getting older?

I cannot stress the significance of individuality. And what I mean is, not everyone who works hard will receive the same results. This was something I learned the hard way. Before I was an English major, I was in pre-med and no matter hard I studied, cried, and prayed, I got Ds, Cs, and Fs. Up until that point, I always got As because of my hard work. And it took some time to understand that no matter how hard one may try at something, if they’re not good at it, they’re just not good at it. Another way to put it is like this: I have a horrible singing voice. No matter how hard I may try, no matter how many lessons I may take, I will never be able to sing beautifully.

Bottom Line:

As Diana’s post states, “I absolutely believe in the inherent worth of every individual, and that no child should feel unloved or unworthy – because there is no higher glory than that we bear the very image of God.”

Yes, I do believe that it’s more effective to praise a child’s efforts. I also think that it’s okay to compliment a child on their smarts, being realistic about it and their future. We are all not the same. Not everyone who goes to college is smart, and not everyone who doesn’t go to college is stupid. We are all capable of doing great things…in our own way, in our own time.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Definition of a “Good” Education

Dear Readers,

Two blog posts ago I discussed the words that came to mind when I saw two men giving free education to impoverished, homeless, and orphaned children in India. As promised, I would like to continue the discussion.

Take a look at the first picture and the ones below. Then ask yourself this: “What is the true meaning of education?” “What is a ‘good’ education?”

Before I answer these questions myself, I will say that some of the greatest discussions and lessons have been in group circles with nothing but chairs. I actually remember being in my college poetry class and how my colleagues and I were so excited whenever we were able to have our session outside the classroom with nothing but the grass as our seats and our laps for our desks. Now I say, “whenever we were able” because we were not the only class with the same desire.

When I was a volunteer ESL teacher last year, I had nothing but flashcards, a 4 x 2 whiteboard on a pedestal and barley working markers. My classroom was in a small cafeteria with 15-20 students who I shared one bathroom with. And you know what? I couldn’t have been happier. And most importantly, they couldn’t have been happier and they couldn’t have learned any more than other students who were more “fortunate.” We were satisfied because the job got done.

So this brings me to what many may argue but what I believe in my heart and soul:

Education does not need technology

Education does not need desks

Education does not need rigorous and pointless testing

Education needs teaching from teachers, not computers

Education needs passion and compassion

Education needs care

Education needs teachers to be judged by the difference they make, not by test scores

Education needs love

Education needs individuality

You know, I sometimes feel that if we come from less, things that others take for granted will be worth so much more.

So, if you’re wondering about what makes a “good” education, just take a look at the faces of those young children and you’ll know.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

A Picture and a Thousand Words

Photo found on http://www.viralnova.com/touching-photos/. I do not own.

Dear Readers,

When I first saw this photo of volunteers Rajesh Kumar Sharma and Laxmi Chandra giving free education to homeless, orphaned, and impoverished children in India, I didn’t have any words. Acutally, I couldn’t even find the words to express the emotion I felt. Two weeks later, I found them. And although they may not be a thousand words, and although this photo is worth so much more, these are the words I have. I invite you to add more.

Goodness

Godliness

Compassion

Passion

Strength

Will

Drive

Love

Hope

Hope

Hope

I shall follow up with another post on this photo.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

What Adults Can Learn from Cartoons

Hi Everyone,

For those of you who have read my previous posts, or the “About Me” page, you will know that I enjoy watching cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants and some Disney movies. Today, I would like to discuss in list form why I do and what everyone can gain from doing so as well.

 

1) Along with praying, spending time with my husband, playing golf, and watching sports, it’s a way of allowing my mind to relax and de-stress.

2) Some of these shows/episodes and movies are actually really funny. What I particularly like about Spongebob is that it’s somewhat relatable in that most people know at least one of the following:

A) Someone who is obsessed with money

B) Someone who likes their job waaaay too much

C) Someone who hates their job and/or has a miserable personality and loves nothing more than bringing people down with them

3) The researcher in me loves to analyze these programs and movies. For example, have you ever thought about how much more sinister Disney villains were back in the 90s compared to now (remember Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame)?

4) One can not only learn a lot from cartoons but be reminded of things that many adults tend to forget or not practice. This includes lessons on what it means to be a friend, and what it means to have compassion, kindness, and love for yourself and other people.

Like I mentioned in my post about the theme of history in Kingdom of the Sun, cartoons can be a reminder of how truth is often twisted as well as the power that the media has in general.

5) They sometimes have catchy songs. “Colors of the Wind” anyone?

6) They can be really nostalgic.

7) They remind me to never take life or myself too seriously. They remind me that it’s okay to laugh at things that others may not necessarily see as funny. They remind me that it’s okay to be myself. They remind me of how awesome being a kid at heart can be.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

 

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